“When neighbors drive by this property, they kind of do a double take,” says Elmer Groom. It’s something this landscape contractor is proud of because drawing their attention is his handy work—what he calls the “Walker Wave.”
“I first saw the wave at Fenway Park and knew it would be appropriate for a couple of my high-end properties,” says the owner of Groom Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. “It takes a little longer to mow the wave, but the homeowner enjoys the effect. Plus, it gives my company a point of difference.”
It’s a point of difference this mowing veteran, who says he’s been in the business so long that he “bleeds green,” doesn’t really need.
“I tell customers that if it doesn’t look like a groomed garden, we didn’t do it,” says Groom with a smile. Yet there’s more to this catchy phrase than meets the eye, since the owner’s roots go deep into landscape installation.
Born in Massachusetts and raised on Cape Cod, Groom received a degree in turf management from Stockbridge School of Agriculture and spent his early years at Highland Golf Links as a greenskeeper. He moved to Florida while in his mid- 20s, working for a landscaping company before striking out on his own in 1988.
Groom’s properties, including the 20-acre headquarters facility for Pilot Pen company, are the recipient of his education and experience. Groom and his one employee, Jeff Dunlap, visit the property twice weekly and often make more calls if the client wishes. Five acres of turf to mow and two linear miles of stick edging would be enough to keep any crew busy. Add in 30 more homeowner properties and no wonder the owner has good things to say about the halogen headlights and low-profile tires on his Walker Mower; the headlights allow him to work late hours whereas the tires allow him to tackle rolling terrain, even after mid-afternoon thunderstorms.
“This is my fifth Walker Mower,” Groom says proudly. “I purchased my first one 13 years ago, a year after taking on the Pilot Pen property. At the time, I was using a Grasshopper. I liked the mower, but using the steering levers all day long aggravated a pinched nerve in my neck. So I bought a Walker Mower, initially because it was easy to operate. Then I discovered that an air-ride seat helped alleviate back pain caused by a bulging disc. When I mentioned that to my chiropractor, he advised me to ‘keep on mowing’.”
Pain (or lack thereof ) aside, Groom now calls the Walker the “Hoover” in his fleet because of its vacuuming capability, something required when collecting leaves in the fall with a 48-inch GHS deck. A side-discharge, 52-inch deck does most of the heavy lifting on properties during the summer growing season, and it also orchestrates the wave.
Groom credits the wave to the Fenway Park groundskeeper who, in turn, got the idea from his young daughter. “She was playing with crayons and told her dad that she had a new way for him to mow,” Groom relates. “After situating a few crayons in her little hand, she made a pass over the paper. Her father looked at the result and said to his wife, ‘I’m going to mow that design at Fenway.’ On special occasions, that’s just what he does.”
That’s what Groom does, as well, but on only two properties. “You have to be at the right property to make the wave work,” he points out. “It can look weird if you try to put the wave on a smaller, more rectangular lawn.”
After demonstrating on a lawn bordered by a long, winding drive, Groom explains that he starts mowing the wave early in the spring and builds on it over the next few weeks, adding in details about how he maneuvers the Walker to get the precise wave effect. “Try to keep the details out of the story,” he says. “Readers can figure it out over time if they wish, but no point in just giving away a potential point of difference.”
Not to worry. His wave is safe here. What aren’t proprietary are a few of his other tricks of the trade. Among them, he keeps his operation small to be able to deliver the kind of personal care his customers want. “If they ask for something a little extra, it’s great to be in a position to deliver on their request,” says Groom.
Building business relationships is also key, he adds, especially for smaller operators. “I work with lawn care companies, arborists and irrigation specialists, and we all share the same level of trust with each other.” Because he wants customers to talk with a “live” voice when they call in, Groom retains an answering service that will text messages to him if he’s unavailable.
Other business tips? “The best way to say you’re sorry is to get it done the way the customer wanted it done in the first place,” Groom emphasizes. Regarding equipment, he notes that the Walker Mower does the work of an additional employee, not to mention the fact that no other mower on the market can do the wave the way a Walker can.